I’ve alluded to it, but I haven’t written at length about my Mets memorabilia collection. I don’t have a room dedicated to it or anything like that (tough to do in a one-bedroom apartment!), and much if it is just sitting in boxes in my closet, but it is something I cherish.
My first visit to Shea Stadium was in 1971, but I started buying Mets yearbooks the following year. Around 1977 or so I said to myself, “Hey, I can collect all of these.” At that point all I needed was 1962-1971.
Easier said than done, I would learn. There was no eBay back then, so I had to find a baseball card store. Fortunately there was one right down the block from the crummy clothing store on Ocean Avenue in Brighton Beach at which my parents forced my brother and me to get clothes. My father knew the owner and we got a big discount. It was also down the block from Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes, where I developed my love for cabbage knishes. I hated the store, the clothes and the obnoxious owner, but it had good neighbors.
In any case, the card store was owned my a man named Melfi. He was an odd fellow who had this very deliberate way of handing you items — he basically presented them to you very theatrically. The first time I was there he unveiled 1967 and 1968 Mets yearbooks. I bought them for $8 a piece, my first memorabilia purchases.
Over the next year or two I bought a bunch of things from him, including a Mets scorecard from almost every year up until then for just a dollar or two, as well as several Daily News issues from the 1969 World Series run, including a rare color edition. Then one day his store was shut down, and that was the end of Melfi.
My brother and I then took to going to baseball card shows (he was into cards, which never particularly interested me). We took the train into Manhattan where they would have these huge shows a couple of times a year. I filled out my yearbook and now scorecard collection at these shows, but there was one elusive item — the 1962 yearbook.
I had never even seen one at any of the shows. Who knew if I could afford it even if I had. Then one day in around 1979 there was a show at Shea Stadium. It was during the off-season; the show was held just beyond the turnstiles of the entrance of Gate C. I don’t remember how I met him, but there was a young man walking around trying to sell a 1962 yearbook. I offered to buy it from him on the spot, but he said he was going to try to sell it to a dealer to get more money. I gave him my phone number and pleaded with him to call me if he didn’t sell it.
He called a couple of days later and offered to sell it to me for $60. Now, that was far more than I’d spent for any of my yearbooks, and probably as much as I’d ever spent for anything up until that point (the really cool inflation calender says it was the equivalent of $185 today). But I quickly said yes. I went to the bank to dip into my Bar Mitzvah money and the following weekend my father drove me out to the guy’s house on Long Island where I finally obtained the Holy Grail of Mets yearbooks.
With my yearbook and scorecard collections complete, I needed a new challenge. I briefly thought about trying to collect every Mets baseball card, but that seemed too daunting. So I turned to post-season programs. Since the league championship series only began in 1969, there was a beginning and end to it. I decided only to go as far back as 1960 on the World Series programs.
I already had all of the Mets post-season programs except for the 1969 Shea program against the Braves. It is very rare, likely because just one game was played at Shea. I picked that up on eBay in the early 2000s. I think I paid around $100 for it, which is now the most I have ever paid for a yearbook or program. In subsequent years I’ve seen them go for triple that amount.
So off I went to shows, buying up programs. I also bought a bunch of Dodger yearbooks directly from the team for $1 each, so I started collecting those as well. But it just didn’t seem right. I was accumulating these things, but they didn’t mean anything to me. Who cares about the Dodgers or a Tigers-A’s championship series? So I stopped. I sold all of my Yankees post-season programs to a friend of my brother’s for $300, and everything else just sat in boxes.
I continued to buy my yearly Mets yearbook and scorecard, but my collecting days were over. Then some genius invented eBay. I started selling the stuff I didn’t care about and buying the stuff that I did. My first eBay purchase was a set 12 Reingold coasters proclaiming the Mets as 1969 World Series champs. They sit on my coffee table to this day (and yes, I use them as coasters).
One of my favorite items in my collection is a Gil Hodges serving tray, also from the good folks at Reingold, issued after he died. Hodges was one of my idols (along with Hank Aaron and Wilt Chamberlain, for some reason). That tray was on the wall of my local pizza place on Ralph Avenue for my entire childhood. I always want to have one. And now I do (along with two coasters).
I’ve bought scattered Mets items over the years, but nothing I would call a collection. I considered buying autographed balls of my favorite players, but I have always been wary of autographs — just so many fakes.
Last October there was a baseball card show here in sunny Los Angeles (in neighboring Glendale, actually). I decided to go; I wasn’t planning on buying anything, it’s just that I hadn’t been to such a show in close to 30 years and I wanted to go to one again. Although I did bring in my pocket the two $100 bills I had won in Las Vegas the previous weekend.
The room was small — much smaller than the shows in New York. It was mostly baseball cards but there was some other memorabilia, mostly Dodgers stuff. But one table had a load of autographed baseballs. I looked at them and walked away. But I kept going back there.
There were three balls that I really wanted — Aaron (my idol), Ralph Kiner (for obvious Mets reasons) and Stan Musial (I’ve always admired Musial. He was such a great player and severely underrated because he played in St. Louis. Plus, he’s supposed to be the nicest guy ever!). I hemmed and hawed, trying to rationalize buying them. Then I remembered the found $200 in my pocket. The dealer, an older man who said he got all of the autographs himself and seemed trustworthy, wanted $240 for all three, but I figured I’d offer $200. If he said no, I would just walk away. Well, he said yes and I walked away with the balls.
Now I have a new collection. I quickly went on eBay and bought the balls of my favorite Mets. So far I have Rusty Staub, Dave Kingman, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, David Wright and Jose Reyes.
But I’m not going to go crazy with this — I’m just going to get the players who mean something to me. The ultimate prize would be a Hodges ball, but those go for thousands of dollars if you can even find one. But you never know. I never thought I would be able to get a 1962 yearbook. So we’ll see…